JunketSleuth Investigation: Spending Irregularities Still Dog Smithsonian

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A new report by the investigative journalism project JunketSleuth raises new questions about the Smithsonian's spending practices.

Four years ago, lavish spending by Smithsonian Institution officials led to the resignation of its then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small. Now a new investigative report by JunketSleuth.com finds that many of these questionable financial practices still continue to this day in the country’s leading museum and research organization.

According to a new investigation by JunketSleuth.com, the Smithsonian continues to engage in the same types of spending under its new Secretary, G. Wayne Clough:

  • Secretary Clough’s travel includes the sort of spending that contributed to his predecessor’s ouster, such as traveling with a spouse, use of charter flights and private car services, first class air travel, etc.
  • Outside donors financed more than $112,000 in travel costs for Clough and his wife. Some of the names of donors were redacted from travel reports.
  • Between 2008-2011, Clough traveled with his wife to 34 US cities and eight foreign countries. These trips included stays in France, Alaska and resort destinations in Florida and Colorado.
  • Clough routinely traveled first class on commercial flights, a practice that is prohibited under federal guidelines (unless medically necessary), and opposed by the Smithsonian’s own auditors. Clough repeatedly cited a medical condition as the reason for his first class accommodation, although travel photos taken by the Smithsonian show him hiking and exploring the outdoors.
  • Clough also appears to have accepted speaker fees for at least one conference, a practice that is discouraged by the Smithsonian’s Office of Inspector General
  • Clough’s base salary is $500,000, paid through federal funds which means he is expected to follow federal travel guidelines
  • Part of these guidelines require federal officials to report trips paid for by outside sources. If Clough filed those reports, the Smithsonian did not release them to JunketSleuth.
  • 70 percent, or $34 million, of the Smithsonian’s travel expenses is paid by unidentified outside sources, which is much higher percentage-wise than other federal agencies. Donor names were redacted from travel reports.
  • Surprisingly, the Smithsonian increased its travel spending even after it was forced to institute a hiring freeze in 2009 to cope with a reduction in its endowment funds. Altogether, the Smithsonian spent 7.7 percent more on self-funded trips, 16 percent more on foreign trips and accepted 5.6 percent more in outside support for official travel between 2008-2011.

As a federally funded, but largely independent institution, the Smithsonian continues to experience vagaries in its financial practices, which should inspire new examinations by federal auditors and the press. This is particularly true given the Smithsonian’s current struggles to afford maintenance costs for its museums and other facilities. Top officials at the Smithsonian continue to engage in red flag behavior when it comes to expenditures.

In 2007, Secretary Small was audited for lavish travel spending for both he and his wife. In May 2008 the Government Accountability Office noted that “accountability remain challenges” in the areas of travel spending, contracting and other expenses. In July 2008 the former chief executive of Smithsonian Business Ventures was examined for excessive travel expenditures. In October 2008, the former director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian came under scrutiny for several questionable expenses, including spending $48,500 on an oil portrait of the director, $17,294 spent on the dinner to unveil the portrait and over $30,000 for an eight-minute video praising his leadership. In 2009, this same official came under scrutiny again for accepting $68,500 in speaker fees, for speeches that were part of his responsibility at the Smithsonian.

To read the full JunketSleuth.com report on the Smithsonian Institution, visit: http://junketsleuth.com/outside-sources-financed-more-112000-travel-head-smithsonian-institution-and-his-wife.

To search individual travel records from the Smithsonian, visit: http://www.junketsleuth.com/government-agency-employee-travel?agency=SI

ABOUT JUNKETSLEUTH.COM:

JunketSleuth.com is an independent investigative journalism project that is exclusively focused on examining how the federal government spends tax dollars on agency travel. Founded in 2009 by president/editor-in-chief Chris Carey, JunketSleuth.com consists of a nationwide team of experienced journalists - including two Pulitzer Prize winners. Website: http://www.JunketSleuth.com

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Michael Sias
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